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North Texas School Districts Work to Combat COVID-19 Slide

by Robbie Owens | CBS 11

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - The excitement that greets a new school year, competes with quiet worries over Covid-19, not least of which is the academic impact following more than a year of what passed for learning, online.

"To me, my kids weren't learning anything at home," said Dallas mom Jeraldin Garcia. "I was doing my best."

Now, parents like Garcia are trusting the schools to do better. And the pressure is on.

"We do recognize that the declines are real," said Shannon Trejo, Chief Academic Officer Teaching & Learning, Dallas ISD, "and there is definitely pressure, and a sense of responsibility to make sure that we are addressing those declines as quickly as possible."

Across North Texas, school districts saw more students struggle when Covid forced classrooms to close, especially in math.

For example, at 8th grade math STAAR scores from the Spring 2021 testing. There were no results for 2020 as tests were cancelled.

The numbers of students who "Did Not Meet" grade level expectations in math in Dallas ISD jumped from 19% in 2019, to 46%.

Fort Worth ISD saw those numbers jump from 30% in 2019, to 61%.

Arlington ISD went from 25% not meeting expectations to 61% as well.

Even suburban districts have been unable to escape the Covid slide.

In Plano ISD, 14% of students did not meet expectations in 2019, while 39% fell short this spring.

The percentage of students failing to meet expectations in Frisco tripled from 6% in 2019, to 18% in the recent testing.

Keller ISD saw their numbers jump from 9% of 8th graders not meeting expectations in math, to 23%.

The concern though is across all subjects.

Earlier this week, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath told lawmakers that students had "lost a decade of proficiency."

A new law passed this summer requires districts to provide tutoring and extra support for students who fell short of state standards.

North Texas' largest districts say they are already doing that and more.

"We're not going to be able to remediate our way out of this," warned Jerry Moore, Chief Academic Officer in Fort Worth ISD.

Moore said the district's recovery message is "full speed ahead."

"Remediation means you take a student, you look at deficits in students learning, and you go back and you reteach those areas for students," explained Moore. "Well, the problem there is when you're always going back and re teaching what students have lost, you're never exposing them to what students need to gain now, the learning opportunities that students need to have this year, in order to progress. Our goal is to stay focused on the grade level that students are enrolled in this year, provide high quality instruction on a daily basis, support the areas where students need additional help, whether that be in the classroom, in small group individualized assistance or outside of the classroom with additional learning time, but make sure that we're accelerating the learning opportunities for students so that they can not only make up ground that they may have lost, but actually exceeding the expectations we have this year."

That "moving forward message" is mirrored by Dallas ISD.

"We are going to be focusing on grade level instruction," explained Trejo, with the district's Deputy Chief of Teaching & Learning Derek Little adding, "we're about how we accelerate expectations, how we accelerate instruction for our students."

To provide more instruction time, DISD offering campuses three calendar options this year, some schools starting the year two weeks early.

"All hands on deck! And I was very clear from the beginning this is the direction we are going," explained H.I. Holland Elementary Principal Shanieka Christmas-McDonald as her campus began the year early. "At Holland you're going to have to give more time, because our scholars need it."

The district is also promising tutoring support on an unprecedented level, while stressing that parents remain key partners.

"Your doing simple things like reading or checking on students and making sure they're getting their homework, or their studying done," explained Little. "All of that helps ensure that students actually can recover and get past the impact that the pandemic has had on them."

Along with additional academic support for students, both Dallas and Fort Worth school leaders say there is also an intentional focus on students' social and emotional well-being this year.

All hands and hearts on deck.

"I'm a mom, I do what moms do," explained Garcia, "so the teachers, they know what's best for the kids at school. I'm so thankful for the teachers."

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